Hampton Lumber is on track with their sawmill rebuild in Fort St. James, despite rumours that the company is planning on delaying the construction.
“None of that is true; nothing has really changed with the plans for the mill or the dates; we have said it is going to be approximately two thirds of the size of Babine mill and that’s how it will be,” said Steve Zika, the CEO of Hampton.
The Oregon-based Hampton Lumber, which also owns the Babine and Decker Lake mills in Burns Lake, purchased the Conifex sawmill in Fort St. James for about $39 million and completed the purchase of Conifex Timber’s forest license last year in November. The company representatives then spent some time meeting with the First Nations, the Mayor and the council and people from the government, to explain the company’s process, vision for the mill and what their plans were. Zika also said that the company is basically trying to copy the successful model in Burns Lake, to the mill in Fort St. James.
Upon taking the ownership, Hampton started drawing up plans and commenced their work on engineering and drawings to construct a new sawmill.
“The sawmill that had been there was very large, very old, and it just wasn’t going to be competitive in today’s more challenging environment, so we hired a variety of engineers, and they went over the plans with some of our sawmill people and we designed a sawmill, ordered the equipment there and we have selected our primary contractors to do the mechanical and the electrical,” said Zika adding that the major contractors in Fort St. James are the same ones the company used when they rebuilt the Babine mill.
The lumber company is aiming to build an operating structure for Fort St. James Forest Products similar to the joint venture it has with the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation that owns the Babine and Decker Lake sawmills. However, according to Zika, the sawmill in Fort St. James will mainly be a stud mill which will make lumber upto 10 feet long, as opposed to the dimension mill in Burns Lake which makes lumber upto 20 feet long.
“At this point we are demolishing some of the old mill, taking it down and selling off the pieces and metals. We have started pouring some of the concrete foundation just in the last couple of weeks. We will continue doing that until whenever the snow hits up there mid to late October maybe early November, depending on the weather,” he said.
The company will continue doing some foundation work until winter after which they hope to start significant construction sometime in early spring, depending on when the weather clears.
“We are still expecting to start the mill in late 2022 which is consistent with what we have told not only the community and the local First Nations but also the Government,” said Zika adding that so far there haven’t been any delays due to Covid with respect to their timelines as the work happening in Fort St. James is being done by local contractors.
“As far as bringing in people from other parts of Canada or Europe or United States, that would be helpful eventually when we have equipment coming in from elsewhere. Eventually, yes that’s when we want to be able to bring people in to the community but for now, it hasn’t had any effect,” he said.
Zika also explained that when getting the license, part of the deal was the commitment the company made to the locals and the government about the timeline and assured that the company was committed on following through with that.
“We are excited about it; the lumber market is good right now and I wish the mill was up already,” he said.